Government Relations Report: February 2016

The elation that accompanied the signing of the Consolidated Appropriations Act has been short-lived. That legislation reflected a new two-year agreement (Bipartisan Budget Act or BBA) between the Administration and Congress to raise the spending caps in Fiscal Years 2016 and 2017. It is now becoming increasingly obvious that the caps are too low to accommodate all the non-defense domestic discretionary spending that advocates want and too high to satisfy many House Republicans.

At this writing, House Republicans have yet to agree on the content of a Congressional Budget Resolution for FY 2017.  The Republican Study Committee and the Freedom Caucus, two organizations of conservative members of the House, have announced their opposition to the spending caps agreed to just a few months ago. These Members want the caps to be reduced or offset by an additional $30 billion in cuts in mandatory programs. In fact, the RSC would like to keep the defense cap in place, but take the entire $30 billion from non-defense discretionary programs, which would reduce them by almost 6% below FY 2016.

It is not yet clear whether this proposal can pass the House. This has thrown a monkey wrench into the proceedings. Appropriations bills for FY 20217 are predicated on the $1.070 trillion level included in the BBA.

Both Senate Majority Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan have pledged to act on appropriations bills. But, proposing a budget of less than $1.070 trillion will inevitably result in the Senate blocking any bill that passed the House and could prevent the House from taking up bills with popular programs in them because Members would not want to be on record supporting deep cuts in those programs in an election year

If, as many predict, a solution is not found to this likely stalemate by September 30th, Congress will be forced to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) at the FY 2016 levels. The length of that CR will likely be influenced by the results of the elections in November.

Other Legislation

CTE Reauthorization:  CTE remains everyone’s candidate for the Education bill most likely to get done this year. We are working with Sen. Reed (Rhode Island) on a series of amendments intended to strengthen the relationship between Adult Education and CTE.

ESRA:  You may recall that we worked closely with Sen. Reed to strengthen language in the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA) with regard to Adult Education. The bill that passed the Senate with this language included makes it clear that the mission of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) to “provide national leadership in expanding fundamental knowledge and understanding of education” includes adult education. The Senate also agreed to language that added “improving access to, opportunities for, and completion of postsecondary education and adult education” to the list of the Institute’s priorities. The Reed amendment also added “State leaders in adult education” to the list of those who may serve on the National Board for Education Sciences and added adult literacy data to the list of types of statistical data to be collected, reported, analyzed, and disseminated by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Finally, it added “access to, and opportunity for, adult education and literacy activities” to the list of topics that the Center is supposed to collect data on.

ESRA, now known as SETRA (the Strengthening Education Through Research Act) has become ensnarled in two issues that have slowed its progress through the Congress. First, is a concern that the research could infringe on privacy rights. The second is that the Senate version of the bill refers to “social/emotional learning,” which has caught the attention of the blogosphere. Congressional staff seems cautiously optimistic that these concerns can be successfully addressed.

Reminder: Please call your senator to ask that he/she sign on the Reed-Blumenthal letter seeking increased funding for Adult Education.